The Great Charter of English liberty granted (under considerable duress) by King John at Runnymede on June 15, 1215
John, by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Count of Anjou, to his archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, foresters, sheriffs, stewards, servants, and to all his officials and loyal subjects, greeting.
Know that before God, for the health of our soul and those of our
ancestors and heirs, to the honour of God, the exaltation of the holy
Church, and the better ordering of our kingdom, at the advice of our
reverend fathers Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, primate of all
England, and cardinal of the holy Roman Church, Henry archbishop of
Dublin, William bishop of London, Peter bishop of Winchester, Jocelin
bishop of Bath and Glastonbury, Hugh bishop of Lincoln, Walter Bishop
of Worcester, William bishop of Coventry, Benedict bishop of
Rochester, Master Pandulf subdeacon and member of the papal household,
Brother Aymeric master of the Knights of the Temple in England, William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, William earl of Salisbury, William
earl of Warren, William earl of Arundel, Alan de Galloway constable of
Scotland, Warin Fitz Gerald, Peter Fitz Herbert, Hubert de Burgh
seneschal of Poitou, Hugh de Neville, Matthew Fitz Herbert, Thomas
Basset, Alan Basset, Philip Daubeny, Robert de Roppeley, John Marshal,
John Fitz Hugh, and other loyal subjects:
1. First, that we have granted to God, and by this present charter
have confirmed for us and our heirs in perpetuity, that the English
Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its
liberties unimpaired. That we wish this so to be observed, appears
from the fact that of our own free will, before the outbreak of the
present dispute between us and our barons, we granted and confirmed by
charter the freedom of the Church's elections - a right reckoned to be
of the greatest necessity and importance to it - and caused this to be
confirmed by Pope Innocent III. This freedom we shall observe
ourselves, and desire to be observed in good faith by our heirs in
perpetuity. We have also granted to all free men of our realm, for us and
our heirs for ever, all the liberties written out below, to have and
to keep for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs:
2. If any earl, baron, or other person that holds lands directly of
the Crown, for military service, shall die, and at his death his heir
shall be of full age and owe a `relief', the heir shall have his
inheritance on payment of the ancient scale of `relief'. That is to
say, the heir or heirs of an earl shall pay for the entire earl's barony, the heir or heirs of a knight l00s. at most for the
entire knight's `fee', and any man that owes less shall pay less, in
accordance with the ancient usage of `fees'
3. But if the heir of such a person is under age and a ward, when he
comes of age he shall have his inheritance without `relief' or fine.
4. The guardian of the land of an heir who is under age shall take
from it only reasonable revenues, customary dues, and feudal
services. He shall do this without destruction or damage to men or
property. If we have given the guardianship of the land to a sheriff,
or to any person answerable to us for the revenues, and he commits
destruction or damage, we will exact compensation from him, and the
land shall be entrusted to two worthy and prudent men of the same
`fee', who shall be answerable to us for the revenues, or to the
person to whom we have assigned them. If we have given or sold to
anyone the guardianship of such land, and he causes destruction or
damage, he shall lose the guardianship of it, and it shall be handed
over to two worthy and prudent men of the same `fee', who shall be
similarly answerable to us.
5. For so long as a guardian has guardianship of such land, he shall
maintain the houses, parks, fish preserves, ponds, mills, and
everything else pertaining to it, from the revenues of the land
itself. When the heir comes of age, he shall restore the whole land to
him, stocked with plough teams and such implements of husbandry as the
season demands and the revenues from the land can reasonably bear.
6. Heirs may be given in marriage, but not to someone of lower social
standing. Before a marriage takes place, it shall be' made known to
the heir's next-of-kin.
7. At her husband's death, a widow may have her marriage portion and
inheritance at once and without trouble. She shall pay nothing for her
dower, marriage portion, or any inheritance that she and her husband
held jointly on the day of his death. She may remain in her husband's
house for forty days after his death, and within this period her dower
shall be assigned to her.
8. No widow shall be compelled to marry, so long as she wishes to
remain without a husband. But she must give security that she will not
marry without royal consent, if she holds her lands of the Crown, or
without the consent of whatever other lord she may hold them of.
9. Neither we nor our officials will seize any land or rent in
payment of a debt, so long as the debtor has movable goods sufficient
to discharge the debt. A debtor's sureties shall not be distrained
upon so long as the debtor himself can discharge his debt. If, for
lack of means, the debtor is unable to discharge his debt, his
sureties shall be answerable for it. If they so desire, they may have
the debtor's lands and rents until they have received satisfaction for
the debt that they paid for him, unless the debtor can show that he
has settled his obligations to them.
10. If anyone who has borrowed a sum of money from Jews dies
before the debt has been repaid, his heir shall pay no interest on the
debt for so long as he remains under age, irrespective of whom he
holds his lands. If such a debt falls into the hands of the Crown, it
will take nothing except the principal sum specified in the bond.
11. If a man dies owing money to Jews, his wife may have her dower
and pay nothing towards the debt from it. If he leaves children that
are under age, their needs may also be provided for on a scale
appropriate to the size of his holding of lands. The debt is to be
paid out of the residue, reserving the service due to his feudal
lords. Debts owed to persons other than Jews are to be dealt with
12. No `scutage' or `aid' may be levied in our kingdom without its
general consent, unless it is for the ransom of our person, to make
our eldest son a knight, and (once) to marry our eldest daughter. For
these purposes ouly a reasonable `aid' may be levied. `Aids' from the
city of London are to be treated similarly.
13. The city of London shall enjoy all its ancient liberties and
free customs, both by land and by water. We also will and grant that
all other cities, boroughs, towns, and ports shall enjoy all their
liberties and free customs.
14. To obtain the general consent of the realm for the assessment
of an `aid' - except in the three cases specified above - or a `scutage',
we will cause the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, and greater
barons to be summoned individually by letter. To those who hold lands
directly of us we will cause a general summons to be issued, through
the sheriffs and other officials, to come together on a fixed day (of
which at least forty days notice shall be given) and at a fixed
place. In all letters of summons, the cause of the summons will be
stated. When a summons has been issued, the business appointed for the
day shall go forward in accordance with the resolution of those
present, even if not all those who were summoned have appeared.
15. In future we will allow no one to levy an `aid' from his free
men, except to ransom his person, to make his eldest son a knight, and
(once) to marry his eldest daughter. For these purposes only a
reasonable `aid' may be levied.
16. No man shall be forced to perform more service for a knight's
`fee', or other free holding of land, than is due from it.
17. Ordinary lawsuits shall not follow the royal court around, but
shall be held in a fixed place.
18. Inquests of novel disseisin, mort d'ancestor, and
darrein presentment shall be taken only in their proper county
court. We ourselves, or in our absence abroad our chief justice, will
send two justices to each county four times a year, and these
justices, with four knights of the county elected by the county
itself, shall hold the assizes in the county court, on the day and in
the place where the court meets.
19. If any assizes cannot be taken on the day of the county court, as
many knights and freeholders shall afterwards remain behind, of those
who have attended the court, as will suffice for the administration
of justice, having regard to the volume of business to be done.
20. For a trivial offence, a free man shall be fined only in
proportion to the degree of his offence, and for a serious offence
correspondingly, but not so heavily as to deprive him of his
livelihood. In the same way, a merchant shall be spared his
merchandise, and a husbandman the implements of his husbandry, if they
fall upon the mercy of a royal court. None of these fines shall be
imposed except by the assessment on oath of reputable men of the
21. Earls and barons shall not be amerced save through their peers,
and only according to the measure of the offence.
22. No clerk shall be amerced for his lay tenement ecept according to
the manner of the other persons aforesaid; and not according to the
amount of his ecclesiastical benefice.
23. Neither a town nor a man shall be forced to make bridges over the
rivers, with the exception of those who, from of old and of right
ought to do it.
24. No sheriff, constable, coroners, or other bailiffs of ours shall
hold the pleas of our crown.
25. All counties, hundreds, wapentakes, and trithings--our demesne
manors being exccepted--shall continue according to the old farms,
without any increase at all.
26. If any one holding from us a lay fee shall die, and our sheriff
or bailiff can show our letters patent containing our summons for
the debt which the dead man owed to us,--our sheriff or bailiff may
be allowed to attach and enroll the chattels of the dead man to the
value of that debt, through view of lawful men; in such way, however,
that nothing shall be removed thence until the debt is paid which was
plainly owed to us. And the residue shall be left to the executors
that they may carry out the will of the dead man. And if nothing is
owed to us by him, all the chattels shall go to the use prescribed by
the deceased, saving their reasonable portions to his wife and
27. If any freeman shall have died intestate his chattels shall be
distributed through the hands of his near relatives and friends, by
view of the church; saving to any one the debts which the dead man
28. No constable or other bailiff of ours shall take the corn or other
chattels of any one except he straightway give money for them, or can
be allowed a respite in that regard by the will of the seller.
29. No constable shall force any knight to pay money for castleward
if he be willing to perform that ward in person, or--he for a
reasonable cause not being able to perform it himself--through
another proper man. And if we shall have led or sent him on a
military expedition, he shall be quit of ward according to the
amount of time during which, through us, he shall have been in
30. No sheriff nor bailiff of ours, nor any one else, shall take the
horses or carts of any freeman for transport, unless by the will of
31. Neither we nor our bailiffs shall take another's wood for
castles or for other private uses, unless by the will of him to
whom the wood belongs.
32. We shall not hold the lands of those convicted of felony longer
than a year and a day; and then the lands shall be restored to the
lords of the fiefs.
33. Henceforth all the weirs in the Thames and Medway, and throughout
all England, save on the sea-coast, shall be done away with entirely.
34. Henceforth the writ which is called Praecipe shall not be to
served on any one for any holding so as to cause a free man to lose
35. There shall be one measure of wine throughout our whole realm,
and one measure of ale and one measure of corn--namely, the London
quart;--and one width of dyed and russet and hauberk cloths--namely,
two ells below the selvage. And with weights, moreover, it shall be
as with measures.
36. Henceforth nothing shall be given or taken for a writ of
inquest in a matter concerning life or limb; but it shall be
conceded gratis, and shall not be denied.
37. If any one hold of us in fee-farm, or in socage, or in burkage,
and hold land of another by military service, we shall not, by
reason of that fee-farm, or socage, or burkage, have the wardship
of his heir or of his land which is held in fee from another. Nor
shall we have the wardship of that fee-farm, or socage, or burkage
unless that fee-farm owe military service. We shall not, by reason
of some petit-serjeanty which some one holds of us through the
service of giving us knives or arrows or the like, have the wardship
of his heir or of the land which he holds of another by military
38. No bailiff, on his own simple assertion, shall henceforth any
one to his law, without producing faithful witnesses in evidence.
39. No freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or disseized, or
outlawed, or exiled, or in any way harmed--nor will we go upon or
send upon him--save by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the
law of the land.
40. To none will we sell, to none deny or delay, right or justice.
41. All merchants may safely and securely go out of England, and come
into England, and delay and pass through England, as well by land as
by water, for the purpose of buying and selling, free from all evil
taxes, subject to the ancient and right customs--save in time of war,
and if they are of the land at war against us. And if such be found
in our land at the beginning of the war, they shall be held, without
harm to their bodies and goods, until it shall be known to us or our
chief justice how the merchants of our land are to be treated who
shall, at that time, be found in the land at war against us. And if
ours shall be safe there, the others shall be safe in our land.
42. Henceforth any person, saving fealty to us, may go out of our
realm and return to it, safely and securely, by land and by water,
except perhaps for a brief period in time of war, for the common
good of the realm. But prisoners and outlaws are excepted according
to the law of the realm; also people of a land at war against us,
and the merchants, with regard to whom shall be done as we have said.
43. If any one hold from any escheat--as from the honour of Walingford,
Nottingham, Boloin, Lancaster, or the other escheats which are in our
hands and are baronies--and shall die, his heir shall not give another
relief, nor shall he perform for us other service than he would perform
for a baron if that barony were in the hand of a baron; and we shall
hold it in the same way in which the baron has held it.
44. Persons dwelling without the forest shall not henceforth come
before the forest justices, through common summonses, unless they
are impleaded or are the sponsors of some person or persons attached
for matters concerning the forest.
45. We will not make men justices, constables, sheriffs, or bailiffs
unless they are such as know the law of the realm, and are minded to
observe it rightly.
46. All barons who have founded abbeys for which they have charters
of the king of England, or ancient right of tenure, shall have, as
they ought to have, their custody when vacant.
47- A11 forests constituted as such in our time shall straightway be
annulled; and the same shall be done for river banks made into places
of defence by us in our time.
48. A11 evil customs concerning forests and warrens, and concerning
foresters and warreners, sheriffs and their servants, river banks
and their guardians, shall straightway be inquired into each county,
through twelve sworn knights from that county, and shall be
eradicated by them, entirely, so that they shall never be renewed,
within forty days after the inquest has been made; in such manner
that we shall first know about them, or our justice if we be not in
49. We shall straightway return all hostages and charters which were
delivered to us by Englishmen as a surety for peace or faithful
50. We shall entirey remove from their bailwicks the relatives of
Gerard de Athyes, so that they shall henceforth have no bailwick in
England: Engelard de Cygnes, Andrew Peter and Gyon de Chanceles,
Gyon de Cygnes, Geoffrey de Martin and his brothers, Philip Mark
and his brothers, and Geoffrey his nephew, and the whole following
51. And straightway after peace is restored we shall remove from
the realm all the foreign soldiers, crossbowmen, servants, hirelings,
who may have come with horses and arms to the harm of the realm.
52. If any one shall have been disseized by us, or removed, without a
legal sentence of his peers, from his lands, castles, liberties or
lawful right, we shall straightway restore them to him. And if a
dispute shall arise concerning this matter it shall be settled
according to the judgment of the twenty-five barons who are mentioned
below as sureties for the peace. But with regard to all those things
of which any one was, by king Henry our father or king Richard our
brother, disseized or dispossessed without legal judgment of his
peers, which we have in our hand or which others hold, and for which
we ought to give a guarantee: We shall have respite until the common
term for crusaders. Except with regard to those concerning which a
plea was moved, or an inquest made by our order, before we took the
cross. But when we return from our pilgrimage, or if, by chance, we
desist from our pilgrimage, we shall straightway then show full
justice regarding them.
53. We shall have the same respite, moreover, and in the same manner,
in the matter of showing justice with regard to forests to be
annulled and forests to remain, which Henry our father or Richard
our brother constituted; and in the matter of wardships of lands
which belong to the fee of another--wardships of which kind we have
hitherto enjoyed by reason of the fee which some one held from us in
military service;--and in the matter of abbeys founded in the fee of
another than ourselves--in which the lord of the fee may say that
he has jurisdiction. And when we return, or if we desist from our
pilgrimage, we shall straightway exhibit full justice to those
complaining with regard to these matters.
54. No one shall be taken or imprisoned on account of the appeal of a
woman concerning the death of another than her husband.
55. All fines imposed by us unjustly and contrary to the law of the
land, and all amerciaments made unjustly and contrary to the law of
the land, shall be altogether remitted, or it shall be done with
regard to them according to the judgment of the twenty five barons
mentioned below as sureties for the peace, or according to the
judgment of the majority of them together with the aforesaid
Stephen archbishop of Canterbury, if he can be present, and with
others whom he may wish to associate with himself for this purpose.
And if he can not be present, the affair shall nevertheless proceed
without him; in such way that, if one or more of the said twenty
five barons shall be concerned in a similar complaint, they shall
be removed as to this particular decision, and, in their place,
for this purpose alone, others shall be subtituted who shall be
chosen and sworn by the remainder of those twenty five.
56. If we have disseized or dispossessed Welshmen of their lands
or liberties or other things without legal judgment of their peers,
in England or in Wales,--they shall straightway be restored to them.
And if a dispute shall arise concerning this, then action shall be
taken upon it in the March through judgment of their peers-
-concerning English holdings according to the law of England,
concerning Welsh holdings according to the law of Wales, concerning
holdings in the March according to the law of the March. The Welsh
shall do likewise with regard to us and our subjects.
57. But with regard to all those things of which any one of the Welsh
by king Henry our father or king Richard our brother, disseized or
dispossessed without legal judgment of his peers, which we have in
our hand or which others hold, and for which we ought to give a
guarantee: we shall have respite until the common term for crusaders.
Except with regard to those concerning which a plea was moved, or an
inquest made by our order, before we took the cross. But when we
return from our pilgrimage, or if, by chance, we desist from our
pilgrimage, we shall straightway then show full justice regarding
them, according to the laws of Wales and the aforesaid districts.
58. We shall straightway return the son of Llewelin and all the
Welsh hostages, and the charters delivered to us as surety for
59. We shall act towards Alexander king of the Scots regarding
the restoration of his sisters, and his hostages, and his liberties
and his lawful right, as we shall act towards our other barons of
England; unless it ought to be otherwise according to the charters
which we hold from William, his father, the former king of the
Scots. And this shall be done through judgment of his peers in
60. Moreover all the subjects of our realm, clergy as well as
laity, shall, as far as pertains to them, observe, with regard
to their vassals, all these aforesaid customs and liberties which
we have decreed shall, as far as pertains to us, be observed in
our realm with regard to our own.
61. Inasmuch as, for the sake of God, and for the bettering of our
realm, and for the more ready healing of the discord which has
arisen between us and our barons, we have made all these aforesaid
concessions,--wishing them to enjoy for ever entire and firm
stability, we make and grant to them the folIowing security: that
the baron, namely, may elect at their pleaure twenty five barons
from the realm, who ought, with all their strength, to observe,
maintain and cause to be observed, the peace and privileges which
we have granted to them and confirmed by this our present charter.
In such wise, namely, that if we, or our justice, or our bailiffs,
or any one of our servants shall have transgressed against any one
in any respect, or shall have broken one of the articles of peace
or security, and our transgression shall have been shown to four
barons of the aforesaid twenty five: those four barons shall come
to us, or, if we are abroad, to our justice, showing to us our
error; and they shall ask us to cause that error to be amended
without delay. And if we do not amend that error, or, we being
abroad, if our justice do not amend it within a term of forty
days from the time when it was shown to us or, we being abroad,
to our justice: the aforesaid four barons shall refer the matter
to the remainder of the twenty five barons, and those twenty five
barons, with the whole land in common, shall distrain and oppress
us in every way in their power,--namely, by taking our castles,
lands and possessions, and in every other way that they can, until
amends shall have been made according to their judnnent. Saving
the persons of ourselves, our queen and our children. And when
amends shall have been made they shall be in accord with us as
they had been previously. And whoever of the land wishes to do
so, shall swear that in carrying out all the aforesaid measures he
will obey the mandates of the aforesaid twenty five barons, and that,
with them, he will oppress us to the extent of his power. And, to
any one who wishes to do so, we publicly and freely give permission
to swear; and we will never prevent any one from swearing. Moreover,
all those in the land who shall be unwilling, themselves and of their
own accord, to swear to the twenty five barons as to distraining and
oppressing us with them: such ones we shall make to wear by our
mandate, as has been said. And if any one of the twenty five barons
shall die, or leave the country, or in any other way be prevented
from carrying out the aforesaid measures,--the remainder of the
aforesaid twenty five barons shall choose another in his place,
according to their judgment, who shall be sworn in the same way
as the others. Moreover, in all things entrusted to those twenty
five barons to be carried out, if those twenty five shall be present
and chance to disagree among themselves with regard to some matter,
or if some of them, having been summoned, shall be unwilling or
unable to be present: that which the majority of those present
shall decide or decree shall be considered binding and valid, just
as if all the twenty five had consented to it. And the aforesaid
twenty five shall swear that they will faithfully observe all the
foregoing, and will caue them be observed to the extent of their
power. And we shall obtain nothing from any one, either through
ourselves or through another, by which any of those concessions and
liberties may be revoked or diminished. And if any such thing shall
have been obtained, it shall be vain and invalid, and we shall never
make use of it either through ourselves or through another.
62. And we have fully remitted to all, and pardoned, all the ill-
will, anger and rancour which have arisen between us and our
subjects, clergy and laity, from the time of the struggle. Moreover
have fully remitted to all, clergy and laity, and--as far as pertains
to us--have pardoned fully all the transgressions committed, on
the occasion of that same struggle, from Easter of the sixteenth
year of our reign until the re-establishment of peace. In witness
of which, more-over, we have caused to be drawn up for them letters
patent of lord Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, lord Henry,
archbishop of Dubland the aforesaid bishops and master Pandulf,
regarding that surety and the aforesaid concessions.
63. Wherefore we will and firmly decree that the English church
shall be free, and that the subjects of our realm shall have and
hold all the aforesaid liberties, rights and concessions, duly
and in peace, freely and quietly, fully and entirely, for
themselves and their heirs from us and our heirs, in all
matters and in all places, forever, as has been said. Moreover
it has been sworn, on our part as well as on the part of the barons,
that all these above mentioned provisions shall observed with good
faith and without evil intent. The witnesses being the above
mentioned and many others. Given through our hand, in the plain
called Runnymede between Windsor and Stanes, on the fifteenth day
of June, in the seventeenth year of our reign.
Roger of Wendover: The Signing of Magna Carta at Runnymede, 1215
Rudyard Kipling Poem: What Say the Reeds at Runnymede?
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